Island Blog – Open and Close

Because I live at both ends of the day, like the animals, like the flowers, I see much. At 5 am the dandelions are closed, the daisies too and other sun-following flowers, the intelligent ones. The hybrids, I notice, just stay open, to night, to cold, to frost and I do, I confess, roll my eyes a bit. Your mummy didn’t teach you things, I think, but you are still beautiful. Maybe not long living, not survivors, not canny, but still beautiful short term. And that is how some people are, how youth is, supple and without dents and the lashes of life, the experiences. An one show. We have all had one of those had we just noticed we were having it instead of wishing we could just get to the next bit.

Slowly, and with the sun, the dandelions open, cautiously. I so get the cautious thingy as we have frost most nights. Just putting my nose and toes out there draws me back in to wait. That’s what the knowing flowers and birds do. They have centuries of experience in the fickle dance of nature. You say it is May? Ha…….let me play with you awhile. I think of the patient understanding of this. These flowers, these birds, adapt. It thinks me.

As we floundering humans with more intelligence (apparently) than the flowers and the birds, adapt, or attempt, to our release back into what we once thought Normal, we are foundering. The way things were will never be again. We are facing a new and uncharted terrain. How glorious. How natural. But we may have forgot the ‘Natural’ within us, that ability to adapt, to confound the voice of May, of any month in our given situation. I hear so many folk say they are relieved we are going back to normal and I recoil, like a snake. Hopefully unnoticed. How can anyone go back, first off, and then back to normal when normal is far from herself. She is ways off what she once was and we need to get that. Okay, I get the yearning for what was, what we understood, what we knew as absolute, the very ground beneath our feet, but that ground is no longer there so don’t think it will hold you up. This Covid has been a warning and one we must pay close attention to. I am no catastrophist other that the times when I have been. But not on this. We are perennials. We know how to follow the sun, our faces lifted and glowing in the light. We also know how to close and to go within, in to the warm, in to the loved ones, away from the cold and the winds that could blow the walls of Jericho down in a nanosecond sans trumpets. Are we paying attention? Life from now-now is not normal. It will be about acceptance and compassion. It will not be about waving fists at camper vans. It will not be about exclusion. It must be about the opposite, about sharing, about kindness, about, let us say, learning how other people work, those who do not have the mummy training that we did.

I watch the dandelions slowly close. I can see it happen because I can sit long just to watch. No other agenda now. Time? I have plenty. No interruptions. I recall agonising about the lack of it, yearning for it, shouting and raging for it. Now it is here, in abundance and if I am not engaged with that state, I can get angsty, fretful. But I am learning and in the main I know it as a gift and I am thankful, although not all the time. I remember my days as a thoughtless hybrid, dancing the light and believing it would last. I remember the sprinter in me and I also remember the long distance runner and my vote, now, goes to the latter. I am with the dandelions and the daisies, even as I love the short term glorious flourish of those blooms that have no flipping idea what they are doing.

So. We open and we close. We might like to think about that, as the borders open, the doors open. We are going to meet others who have really struggled through this past year; those who were stuck at home with those they were, before, able to live with only because they could get away to work. We are going to meet angry, upset, resentful, pressured beyond what we can imagine, on roads, in cafes, in pub gardens, in doorways and outside our safe picket fence. Let us allow everyone to regain some hold on what it is to be a part of the human race. Let us be kind, pull back, let forward, offer, pause, consider and, most important of all, deal with our own anger and frustration within ourselves and all by ourselves without projecting our pain on someone else who has more than enough to deal with anyway. Who said that if we really want to heal the pain the world, first we need to heal our own pain? I forget, but it is worth saying again.

Let us close to what we knew, what was and let us open to whatever comes next. After all, not one us has a scooby.

Island Blog – Rain Light

I walked today with my eyes open, as best I could in the slanty rain showers. I need to see, and everything, not just the odd one or two things of spectacularness. Actually, if I look with intent, a great many things take on such a quality. Marching past, thinking ‘rain shooting up my frocks or stones kicked inside my boots to irritate my bare toes’ I can easily miss something I should not miss if I want this walk to mean anything more than a mere mindless exercise for both myself and the Poppy dog. She, needless to report, has no issues with frocks or stones in boots and I am glad of it, for her sake.

Lifting my mind from the aforesaid, I steady my gait, slow my footsteps, turn my face to the rain and all the skinly benefits it has to offer me, for I know it does, I can feel it prickle and stipple my wrinkly face, making it really quite lively. My mascara will not run, and if it does, I won’t mind because the feel of this heavenly water is so much more refreshing than the slosh of chlorine controlled tap water. I look about me. The leaf mulch is like burnished copper and the stems of strong-backed bracken think me of bare trees in a fairy forest. Rose Bay Willow Herb (such a mouthful of a name) stems are of similar beauty. I wonder when they will all finally fall to earth. Perhaps never. I forget.

Moss coats the trees. Beech, Alder, Sycamore, Hornbeam, Oak. All of them gleam and glow, luminescent, elvish, the tiny moss tops holding the droplet diamonds. Thousands of them, on closer study. The sycamores or plane trees patched like the necks of giraffes show me burnt siena and umber. Some trees are bald and the rain has shone them into beacons of light, like wraiths among the living, standing without breath. All sung out. The flash of a Jay overhead, the greyling light illuminating its colours, the translucence of its wings in flight. A buzzard hums the air, holding it, balanced to perfection, almost still as punctuation. Poor rabbit, I think, or mouse. You will see nothing coming as you scurry from cover to cover, always hiding, hiding for a lifetime.

The track is puddled, the extraneous rain pitching down through little gullies, down, always down, as freshwater will always down to the mother sea. The loch popples, tiny drops peppering the surface whilst beneath, salt meets fresh and the inevitable collision shows me a frothy curve of resistance and attack. Sticks lie here and there, thrown perhaps for laughing dogs with play in their mouths and dance in their legs, abandoned like dropped kindling on the path of a forager. I remember each Autumn walking up here on dry days to forage for kindling. There was something wonderful about knowing who lit my fire. Buying bags of split wood never felt the same. I like provenance, stories, meaning behind things. I felt the respect owed and due as I lifted, carried and then lit my fire with something from the woods of Tapselteerie. So much of my life lived there. It matters. Thank you, I breathe, as I lay the gathered sticks, marking, in my mind, the tree they fell from, the one still living, or the wraith that once flowered and spread, following the seasons and just begging to be noticed.

Almost home and I hear the chatter of a very busy household. I can see the evergreen shrub shaking with all this noise and bustle. Hallo Sparrows, I say, but quietly so as not to disturb or alarm. I toss up a prayer of thanks for their safety in concealment. I like that they can live together this way, as I absolutely could not. A commune never attracted me but sparrows seem to love it. They are safe for now, for this time when the sun, barely able to lift his head over the horizon offers a shortling day in which to feed or to forage. T’is the season, I tell them, as I walk by and they, having paused at my footsteps, in an alert concern, relax and chatter back to me. I know how to move around birds; slow and with a soft, reassuring voice. In the mornings as I fill the feeders, the birds come close, even the male blackbirds and that was my best delight for they are the biggest panic merchants I have ever encountered, screaming alarm at the slightest twist in proceedings and frightening all the other birds into bushes and over fences, their little hearts beating like a drumroll, and oft for nothing.

Another day passes. This one with rain light in its eyes. I meet those eyes. And I see.

Island Blog – Composing History

This morning, around 4 am, the chaos awakened me. I cannot call it a dawn chorus because, by definition, a chorus is a group of musicalities singing, or playing the same melody with sensitively selected harmonies plus the odd discord for salt. This gradually escalating cacophony smacks more of jazz, country, classical and pop all playing at the same time and yet, bizarrely, it is far from discordant. It flows in a glory of counterbalance through the open window telling me the day is rising and so should I because light is my thing and this music is the most uplifting I could ever wish for. Wherever we live, birdsong is a daily gift, whether it be given to us on the island, in a flat in Glasgow, on the coast of Spain or in Crinkly Bottom, Englandshire. And it is free, no need to download an app nor pay a monthly sub. We cannot see the music, but we can see the musicians, if we let our eyes roam the landscape. They are free, wild, not in lockdown, not separated from loved ones, and they can do so much to uplift a flagging spirit.

I come downstairs, make tea and go check on the moon. I know she is there, could almost hear her and most definitely saw her light seeping through a crack in the curtains. She is gibbous, pregnant with a burgeoning rounded bump, about to give birth to fulness. The tide is waiting, I see her, sitting there, flat and rising as the undertow pushes more sea beneath her bulk, swelling her until she will reach her full height on May 7th. Gulls shriek above her, their sharp eyes following the fish just below the seafoam, occasionally to dive, with no grace whatsoever, thus erupting the surface into splash and bother. Greenfinches bounce along my fence, Goldfinches flit like butterflies across the field and a lone heron, yelling abuse as always, flaps over the narrows heading for the sea.

All of this looking and seeing thinks me. Of us, of all of us, all people, all colours, shapes and sizes. We are a chorus of humanoids, no matter what melody we choose, and in singing together we have the same power to uplift a flagging spirit. I know that in this crazy-bonkers time we cannot meet each other to compare notes, and all of us are changing, will be forever changed by this. There is a new score being crafted, new melodies unfolding, twisted and turned by capricious tides, pushed along by a strong undertow, powerful as the pull of the moon. 2020 will never forget what happened, what is still happening. And, there will be stories, millions of stories, myriad hearts speaking out, singing out and the chorus of these songs and stories will be remembered and resurrected long after we go back to dust. How remarkable to be living in this time! This period in history will be taught and learned in schools for generations to come. And we were there, we are there, we are here, living it, seeing it. This is our time. May we take it all in, really look and really see everything, employing all our senses in order to round the story gibbous, pregnant, like the moon, ready to give birth to a brand new world.

Island Blog – Chaste with Cheese

This morning I heard a different goose sound. It wasn’t the scrabble babble of greylags, all talking over each other and yet still managing to fly in formation, the ones who are here every year to breed. No, this was two geese making what sounded like gentle conversation; one waiting for the other to finish before responding. It leapt me out of bed in what once was a trice and now takes a bit longer so that my limbs can catch up with the trice thing. I saw them. A pair of geese from the Branta genre, black geese, Canada geese as far as I could tell. I have never seen them before here and it thrilled me to my toes. I watched them swim together through my binoculars and verified my sighting. How completely wonderful that they have chosen to come, just when we are all wondering how on this good earth we are going to manage with in-housing, not to mention those of us who might have chosen option B, had we had the choice. I’m sure you have seen that YouTube funny. If not, take a peek. But, option B or option A aside, there is life growing on outside our windows, unaware of our collective need to see life in the face of death.

Meanwhile, her indoors is making cauliflower cheese. I am aware that at some point, cheese, along with other important will run out somewhere. It might be here, so I am chaste with cheese, flavouring the sauce with chopped spring onions, red pepper and coriander before adding about half the cheese I would have lobbed in during times of abundance. I am chaste with loo paper too and that won’t surprise you. Someone, somewhere has bought up the lot and good luck to them and their associated familial bottoms. We have a saying in the north. If you run out of loo paper, just grab a handy scotsman. I thought that was a rather unpleasant idea on first hearing it, even if I did laugh so as not to look stupid, until I realised it meant the newspaper, which, on reflection, sounds equally as unpleasant. Let us hope it won’t come to that. I don’t really fancy finding editorial print on my bahookie.

Along with being chaste around everything, I find I am cleaning more things and more often than I ever have in my life. I don’t think I ever scrubbed the latch on the front gate, nor the door handles and knobs, light switches and taps. I would have given them a cursory wipe whilst cleaning the room, but not like this. I count 67 hand washes a day, and that doesn’t include washing up or squishing soft suds through a woolly. At first it felt very odd and quite tired me out, but now it’s a habit. Washing himself, however, is not quite so straightforward. I tell him, You need to wash your hands. I washed them on Wednesday, he said, his feathers somewhat ruffled.

Being profligate is not something we can be any more and that is no bad thing. I had no idea I was so tally ho with pretty much everything from cheese to loo paper…..until now. Now I could sit with my old ma and agree on half a tomato each without rolling my eyes once. I get it. And, I think, I hope, that it will become the norm not to waste as much as we all did before. It isn’t being parsimonious, more respectful of whatever we handle, cook, use in our daily lives. It might mean we learn how to repair things like paddling pools and socks and broken wings and in this learning we will honour what we need instead of grabbing what we want without a backwards glance. Perhaps we will become kinder to each other, more ready to keep in regular contact, less fond of staying late at work in order to gain an A+, whilst a grudging E- awaits us at home.

And Mother Nature is smiling wide. Because we are not tramping down the grasslands, wild flowers can grow, bees can visit, birds can nest and the whole glorious circle of what life should and could be, is turning us into mindful humans. Let us find the fun in-house, around our children, through contact with friends and family and let our minds be wide open. One day, when we can open our doors without having to scrub someone else off the handles, when we can walk out free once more, let us take what we have learned, and are still to learn, out into a brave new world.

Island Blog – A New Path

I have begun. Pulling jeans out of the jeans drawer, way too small, way too skinny-legged for me now and, yet, held on to like a Precious, just in case I awaken one morning to find my skin tighter across my bones and my belly flat. How bonkers is that! I even hold on to dresses that have been the wrong fit for years and they hang as from a gallows tree all pretty and flouncy and empty of breath.

But it is hard to let go of them. Within those folds lie memories of what was, of who I was, once when the carefree in me sang in a higher key; when the crone didn’t huddle in a wrinkled corner, beckoning. But they are cuckoos now, these frocks and swingle skirts and they aren’t the only ones holding those memories. Jeans, boots, tops and froufrou; halter necks, strapless, slim-lined, tight-waisted – for family weddings, parties, dances, ceilidhs, stage events at book festivals, I will remember you when you are gone, all by myself.

I take a big bag upstairs and begin. There are button boots with cuban heels still in their boxes, worn once, maybe twice; there is a sparkly sequinned sheath bought years ago in a Glasgow shop, electric blue and minus a few sequins now and a sheath. A sheath. I will never ever wear a sheath again. Inside that wardrobe hangs my past. In the depths of the dark they call for their release, like long-term prisoners from a cell and it is I who am their jailor. I have no idea if anyone will find them, eyes ablaze with excitement, pull them off the rack and take them home, but what I do know is that I need to let them go, for them to breathe new air, to adorn, possibly, a younger body, one inhabiting the carefree, careless of the lack of sequins.

It thinks me. Not just of clothes but of life as a whole. Letting go is being open. It is also being vulnerable. If my wardrobe stands empty, what then? What if I am invited to something swish, some event that requires a dress, or a pair of button boots and all I have to hand are wider frocks and flat plimsolls? Will I still go? Having little or mostly no access to shops I cannot replace any of them short term. Besides, I loathe shopping with a vengeance. I can go into a dress shop and be overwhelmed within 3 paces, so overwhelmed that all I see is a blur of colour and rack upon rack of 25 dresses all in the same style but in different sizes. I run for Costa.

Letting go of old things, old ways of being, old beliefs that birthed when I was young and carefree, and are now quite obsolete, is not easy. But….This is what I believe. This is what I think. This is how I do this. If I let go of any of these, what do I replace them with? Well, replies my inner guru, Nothing. You just wait patiently for something else to come in, something new and right for Now. But, I am not patient, I snap at her. I want things to be there when I need them, people too, help and support and more carpet cleaner. She only smiles. I can feel the warmth of it and I know our conversation is done.

When life feels like a wobbly back tooth I can panic. I can think I am all alone in the world, the Only Weirdo at 67, the one whose insecurities are alive and kicking and whose self-doubt is as fat and magnificent as the Taj Mahal only without the bejewelment. But (and there is always one of those) when I sit and talk with other women of my age, even if their lives are markedly different to my own, I hear the weirdo in them too. They confess their own insecurities and those insecurities rhyme with mine, they harmonise, they match. It seems we all feel these things and I am mindful of the arrogance that thought me I was the Only One. What changes me are these encounters, these shared laughs about missing sequins and memories hiding in the folds. They also have held on as if youth might return one day with her confidence and her wahoo and her carefree danceability.

We agree, this Other Weirdo and I that she is not gone; nor is she beaten into submission; nor is she dead on the gallows, empty of breath. She has quietened down, yes, she has felt foolish and turned in, but she has something within her that has replaced her trust in the world. Trust in herself. Yes, it’s like a toddler learning to walk, this trust, but it has potential, even now, even when life has bashed and scarred with all that is thrown the way of every one of us.

In the light of this knowledge I am inspired to greater heights. If I think, just once, that keeping ‘this’ will bring back my vim and vigour, it has to go because I am not trusting in myself if I hold on to the old. Not just clothes but old beliefs, old ways of doing things, old lies. I will no longer pick through the rubble of what once stood four-wall-tall. I will gather the bits I can carry and make a path.

A path into whatever comes next.

Island Blog 121 Listen to your ears

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When I hear something, I hear it.  I may respond distractedly, or with intense concentration.  I may not quite hear it for a few seconds, when a word or phrase yanks me back into the room, back beside the person who spoke and then I will ask them to say it all again.  In domestic situations, taking into account familial or relational baggage, I may find myself in the blast of a dismissive retort.

You never listen to me!  I’m not going to talk to you until you put down that mobile, laptop, dog,book, whatever!  Then follows a doggy-type following around, an apology (if you’re lucky), a plead to say it again, an ‘I AM listening, honest’…….sort of drama, which, if I am very lucky, ends well, although by this time, having pattered about whimpering and wagging my tail, I am so not interested anymore, even supposing whatever I didn’t listen to, on first delivery, could get me to the ball after all.

I have read much on the difference between hearing and listening, and, to be honest, am none the wiser, confusing the two whenever I deliver said difference in an astonishing phrase of pure wisdom.  Nobody has ever corrected me, confirming my suspicions that nobody else gets the difference either.  But I do know how critical it is to listen to what our children say and really hear it.  Really not hearing it is the root beginning of an immense baggage collection, guaranteed foreign holidays for psychiatrists, counsellors and mediums, and establishing once and for all that 90% of our troubles, self-doubts and hangups stem solely from our mother.

But what about those things I hear without actively listening?  Those words far off, lifted at random from another conversation, over there somewhere, that can float all by themselves into my head to settle on a comfy sofa, feet up, just waiting for the chance to rise into my concious mind.  I can read something in a book, or in the poetry of a hymn in church and, without consciously choosing to remember any of it, I find myself looking at it as I wake in the early morning, hearing it anew, and marvelling at the brilliance of my aging brain.  Because our senses are all linked by millions of little byroads, I might watch the movement of the clouds across a darkling sky and find words in my mouth and I don’t mean ‘Wow, look at THAT!’  It might be a line in a letter (does anyone remember the last letter that came through the post, with a stamp, licked by the writer and handed over by Amy the Post?) or it might be a phrase from the book I’m reading, or something someone said, but I don’t remember the time or the context.  Somehow, it fits in with the clouds and the darkling sky and again I am astonished at the incredible majesty of the human brain, even though we only ever tap into about a third of its potential.  Just think what we could do and who we could be, if we only knew how to build a mental motorway or, even just how we might repair the byroads already in place.  But we don’t, despite all that irritating knowledge that highlights our human lack.  Why do we have this immense brain in the first place?

As we grow older we begin, everso gradually, to lose the byroads we do have.  One by one, they give way to sprawling grasses, weeds and foliage that turns a shortcut into a wilderness.  Ok, we know this.  We might not like it much, losing our glasses ten times a day, forgetting an appointment made some time before, leaving the margarine out of the cake, and so on, but it a fact of life and we may as well find the dance in it.

My old granny, long dead but unforgettable, never lost her dance.  When it could no longer be found in her strong and shapely legs, or her long elegant feet, it was there in her eyes for all to see.  In a shop, at a bus stop, in her own little flat, she brought that dance forward at every encounter with every person from the Red Cross collector, shaking her bucket outside the door, to the doctor or the minister, although she was highly suspicious of the minister, to be honest.  Even in hospital, dying, she lifted her smile to every nurse, every orderly without exception, and she was no goody-goody I can tell you, being overly full of mischief and with a keen eye for the caricature.  It was for herself, she danced, not to be seen to be dancing, for she had little care for such vanities.

Listening to my ears is not really possible.  It makes little sense, suggesting that my ears have ears and, with a few large-eared exceptions, this seems an unlikelyhood.  But when my little grandson said it to me this morning as we walked through a lovely wild place, I realised I had heard what he said twice.  First, effortlessly, in the normal way, and then, again, as if I was hearing myself hearing.  It made me realise, as I considered this new phenomenon, that not only is there wisdom, beyond their understanding, falling from the mouths of babes, but that, if I really think it through, this is the only way to live.  If I do practise listening to my ears, I distance myself from an instant response, one that might cause an injury to another’s heart.  Words spoken in haste, fuelled by baggage, can wound and wound deep.  Words written in anger can live for a lifetime and beyond.  But if I can learn to close my trap (oh hallo mother) and to keep my ears (all of them) open, I not only allow words to settle in the sofas of my mind, gently; not only allow the moment to move beyond my clutches, however much my fingers itch to capture and internalise it, but, in those precious moments of mouth closed, ears open, I can hear, albeit distantly, the grace notes floating across the divide and find that my feet take up the dance.

Island Blog 49 – Flight

Sometimes a story unwraps like a ribbon. The words just tumble out in the right order and, better still, reflect what I want them to reflect. But not today it seems.  

I blame last night and that whistling wind and the clack of the plastic air vents and the scritch- scratch of Virginia creeper, not yet softened with leaves, sounding like the bony fingers of a witch against the window glass. Today is a big day.  

It’s launch day for Island Wife, my book published by Two Roads.  Actually, to be correct it is Launch Number Two.  We already held one on the island, for the folk who see me often and I them for over 35 years now.  

The people, who will come this evening to Jarrold’s Book Department in Norwich, will wear faces I haven’t set eyes on for 3 decades.  

I guess, like me, they will look older, a bit worn, a bit broken too, but we will know each other in a heartbeat.  Faces, hair colour, shapes may have altered dramatically or barely at all, but voices stay the same.  I could close my eyes all evening and still know exactly who speaks, even if I have to dig deep into my memory bank.  

So many voices and no two the same. There won’t be time to hear the stories, the tales of joy and sadness, the lost and the found in that short 90 minutes, but when it is done and books are signed and drinks are drained, I will walk out with those voices darting around inside my head like swallows just back from Africa. And they?  

Well, they will drive or walk or catch a train back into their own lives with a new book in their hands. I may never know their stories, but from tonight, they will all know mine, perhaps hearing my voice for the very first time.